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I Won't Change a Thing, I Swear

There's was bakery in my old neighborhood that used to be owned by a German couple. He was a wizard baker, and she knew coffee like no one else. That's how they started, pastry and coffee.

They grew from there. They added breads and sandwiches. Specialty loaves, specialty pastries, more exotic coffees. On Fridays you could even get a challah made with their brioche dough. A neighborhood favorite was the almond croissant. There wasn't a better one in the city.

But all good things come to an end, and no business can last forever. People age, their interests change, they don't have the energy they used to. So, when a big restaurant chain approached them to sell, they had to give it some thought. The money was good of course, and they wanted a change. But the neighborhood was like family to them. They had built relationships through the years. Kids had grown up eating their sandwiches. Parents spent years looking forward to that almond croissant for the quiet hour while the kids were in Sunday school. The couple knew they would be leaving friends who had made them a part of their lives.

They sought assurances from the buyer that things would not change. "I won't change a thing, I swear." Easy to say. We say it a lot, but it's not always what we mean. When a new person takes over a system, they see what they see. Whether the take over is an acquisition or a promotion, they don't see what the old owner sees. When the buyer said he wouldn't change a thing, he meant it. He loved what he saw, crowds of people, a welcoming atmosphere, good cashflow. He didn't want to change any of that.

After the purchase the new buyer had to wonder why the couple had been buying that expensive ham for the ham and cheese sandwiches? He could get ham that was just as good via his restaurant and save money on volume. You know, we won't change the recipe, but we might as well bake those croissants in the main bakery of the chain so that we can save expenses. Mixing the almond paste into the croissant seems a bit much; we should just sprinkle almond slices on the outside. And the coffee could be better too.

So, he didn't change a thing. He improved a lot of things. And he had no idea why everyone was so mad. Traffic fell off, the savings were eaten up by the lower productivity of the business. He had to make other cuts as well. He couldn't understand it. He bought a good business, didn't change a thing, but it's not producing the same profit as before. He began to think he was hoodwinked. Maybe the couple had hidden some things from him. Maybe the customers were too stupid to notice things were better. Maybe the employees were sabotaging things. 

He couldn't figure it out. He hadn't changed a thing. Well, nothing important anyway. Everything was essentially the same from his point of view. He made the assumption that his point of view was the same as the customers'. How many of us do that? A lot.

Business is the process of solving other people's problems for money. It isn't the process of serving what you want, the way you want, and getting paid what you want. Too many in business today believe that. If you aren't solving someone's problem, you don't have a business. And if you are solving someone's problem, you need to actually know what their problem is. If the problem is that I can't get an almond croissant just like that anywhere else, then solve that. If you don't solve that, I no longer have a reason to go to your bakery over anyone else's. 

When you take over a place, a business, or a system that has been running fine, don't rush to change things. Even if there are problems, don't rush to fix them. Don't rush to save money, homogenize operations, or consolidate staff. Take your time. See the business from the customer's perspective. Ask them how the business can improve from their point of view, not yours. If you want a successful acquisition, then don't change a thing until you know what to change.

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